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Monday, October 15, 2007: Huge Success!

Today was incredibly eventful! After all the months to years of planning and designing and building SCINI did what she was "born" for, she went under the ice in Antarctica, swam around, and sent us back pictures! I can't describe how thrilled the team is with this success.

This intrepid explorer-fish has decided to go for a ride -

We started this morning with a plan to do a "dunk test" in the big tank in the aquarium room in the afternoon. Marcus and Bryan worked their magic with the insides of the electronics bottle and the computer software, and got to a point of stability and readiness, and then Nick took over assembly. We are still perfecting our checklists to make sure we don't forget any important steps, and writing directions and documentation to help us, and any future users, through each stage. So we had some minor hitches, where we had to go back, and carefully redo the steps, but eventually we had the robot fully assembled.
The visionary Team SCINI-zou, with the fully assembled robot, looking towards the future...

We hooked her up for her pre-dive tests next to the tank full of Trematomus bernacchii. All the thrusters responded perfectly, the camera and lighting were giving us nice clear images, the checklist was complete, it was time to get wet! We gently placed her in the tank and carefully ballasted her so that she was neutrally buoyant and level. This way, it takes no extra effort to maintain position. A curious crowd started to mill around: the GPS expert who is helping us with our navigation, the lab safety guru, the gents who maintain the facilities in the lab building (and have gotten the temperature in our office above freezing!), the janitors who help us stay organized, and even the NSF science representative. Bryan, Nick, and Marcus took turns driving around the fish in the tank, and Bob could not get the proud papa grin of his face. Everyone was so supportive and congratulatory and sharing our excitement, it felt absolutely fantastic. Even if it was just in a tank, SCINI's electronics and everything else were performing well in cold Antarctic water! We let others try out the thrusters and only splashed a little water out of the tank, and scared a few of the fish. We did some resolutions tests on the camera, and determined that SCINI could read (with a little translational help). We were so excited with our success that we almost forgot to go to dinner, but we had a bigger goal in mind too!
SCINI in the test tank with some confused fish!

After a quick meal, we came back to the lab and loaded everything up into a Pisten Bully that Rob, the Diving Safety Officer, had kindly lent us (our vehicle is still in the clutches of the carp shop undergoing minor but evidently very challenging modifications). We met up with Joe, who along with Thomas, are the UNAVCO GPS specialists who can locate positions to within cm. They came with us to the nearby Jetty to show us where to put our navigational transducers that would allow us to tie the underwater position of SCINI into the global positioning system. Joe and Thomas were willing to work late just to help us out, another example of the fantastic folks down here.
Is it Ghost Busters, or UNAVCO?

Set up went fairly smoothly, except that we got the Badger drill stuck in the ice for a little while, and then the ice was much thicker than we expected, and then we drilled into the rock at the top of the Jetty at one point. The, ahem, usual challenges! Mindy, Bob and Marcus were the troopers, staying outside in the wind until the job was done, and all of the navigation transducers were in place, snug in their 5 cm holes through 7 m of ice.
How many scientists does it take to drill a 5 cm hole?

And finally, a little push, a brief whirr of thrusters, and SCINI was under the ice in Antarctica!
SCINI starts her first Antarctic dive!

It was a deeply rewarding feeling to have the sub driving around under the ice, looking at seastars and worms and anemones and sea spiders and sponges. For the divers, it was a new perspective on a somewhat familiar scene, and for the non-divers, it was a first view of an exciting new world! We could drive around the rocks of the Jetty, and the soft sediment nearly, and sneak up on krill, and shine our lights in all the mysterious seafloor animals, without getting wet ourselves! I really can't find the words to describe how intensely thrilling it was. And it's just the start!
It's better than your favorite movie!

Of course, not everything went perfectly; that would be too unbelievable. The navigation system was inexplicably noisy, though it had worked well in tests a few days before. After gradually shutting down everything, we found several causes, including a low battery in the transponder. We fussed with that for quite a while, and then finally decided that as it was after midnight, we should go home and get some rest. So we began to wrap things up, and found that the 5 cm holes had frozen down too far for us to recover the 4.5 cm transducers. Yikes! Much pushing with tent poles, attempting to heat seawater in plastic buckets over kerosene heaters, and "borrowing" of heating elements that happened to be around the aquarium area, and Bob devised a plan to pour hot water down a funnel and hose, which I was convinced would not work because the water was fresh and so freezes at a higher temperature than seawater. But lo and behold, with one cup of hot water to spare, one of the transducers came free. It was now 2 am, and we decided that with a proven plan for recovery of the second transducer, we could go to bed so that we could make our 9 am dive schedule the next morning. We scuttled on home, and unloaded and brushed our teeth and actually got all the way into bed, before I recalled that we had left the Pisten Bully parked outside our lab and running, instead of plugged in outside the dive shack where it belonged. So Bob, bless his heart, volunteered to get his warm clothes back on and walk back to the lab and put the vehicle away. I was asleep by the time he got back!
The tent pole and hot water funnel transducer recovery strategy.

I am So Proud of the whole team, and especially of Bob, who really has made SCINI work.
Staying up until 2 am has some rewards - we got to see the moon over Discovery!


Congratulations everyone! Thanks for posting stories and great pictures for us to watch you adventure at the bottom of the world!

Go Marcus!

Adam at VideoRay

Congratulations everyone! It's great to read these updates here as you all go on this amazing adventure at the bottom of the world!

Thanks for posting updates and beautiful pictures.

Adam at VideoRay

congrats to u all.

nick, im proud of u.


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This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. ANT-0619622 ( Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.